Jeroen van VEEN (b. 1969)
Minimal Preludes, Book I (2003) [52:58]
Minimal Preludes, Book II (2004) [67:20]
Jeroen van Veen (piano)
rec. 27-28 October 2006, Barbara Church, Culemborg, the Netherlands.
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 95383 [52:58 + 67:20]

Jeroen van Veen has carved a significant niche for himself as a performer of the works of Simeon ten Holt, and in particular with Canto Ostinato, which continues to be a mine of seemingly limitless possibilities when it comes to varieties of ensemble and instrumentation (review). Recordings including Arvo Pärt’s piano music (review) have become bestsellers, and his recent complete piano works of Erik Satie (review) is another big project. These first two books of Preludes first appeared in the first of the ‘Minimal Piano Collection’ box sets from Brilliant Classics – a self-recommending box set for this kind of music, but if you already have it you won’t need this 2 CD set.

Jeroen van Veen is quite candid about the influences surrounding his own Preludes, citing inspiration from the classical masters: “I tried to combine the order of Chopin, the piano techniques of Franz Liszt and Sergei Rachmaninoff, the polyrhythms of Philip Glass, the sound of Simeon ten Holt and the rhythms of Steve Reich”. Feeling the potential of minimal music even since his student days, “I frequently call my works Lego music because they are composed of many individual components or “bricks”… Many motives reappear in various works, like Lego bricks do in Lego structures”.

The result in this collection is rich tonal pickings for those enthusiastic about minimalism in all its forms – not necessarily of the ‘ostinato’ kind characterised by earlier Steve Reich, but exploring a wide range of expressive melodic shapes, pianistic texture and resonance, harmonic tensions and rhythmic patterns. Jeroen van Veen is the complete package when it comes to recording. He acts as his own engineer, capturing a flawless and highly musical technique with an acute ear for the timbre of his instrument and its environment. These pieces have been recorded in a church environment rather than in the equally familiar Culemborg studio, and while the acoustic adds an attractive sense of space the sound is by no means swimming in resonance.

As you take your journey through these Preludes you increasingly begin to hear Jeroen van Veen’s own creative voice through those influences mentioned above. There is often a minor-key feel of melancholy in even the major-key pieces – an atmosphere of farewell, in which your imagination takes flight into spaces filled with objects of elusive nostalgia. This is not to say there is a lack of drama or excitement, but things are never quite as predictable as you might think. Even where van Veen launches a fearsomely intense opening such as the Minimal Prelude No. 13 that opens CD 2 his impressive opening building block is interrupted by the handbrake turn of another. After the initial idea returns and is sustained for a longer period, the later return of the second idea answers its own question and takes its rightful place, given whatever meaning you can find for it.

Both spectacular and simple, these pieces all have bags of content and an underlying surge of joy in creation and performance that is irresistible. You will find your own favourites amongst this verdant musical field, but as a sampler you might find yourself bewitched by the longest in the set, the pearlescent Minimal Prelude No. 18 in F minor. If you have the set that includes Books II and III of these Preludes (review) then you will most certainly want this one.

Dominy Clements
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